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I also offer personally-tailored, individualized English conversation practice (including etiquette) and coaching in writing techniques. Finally, I edit texts such as magazines, business proposals, memorandums, emails so they are presented in English which does not embarrass you or your organization. For further details, please mail me at: language.etiquette@gmail.com

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11 February 2012

Karl Lagerfeld and Russian men

My relationship with Karl Lagerfeld never went much beyond the sunglasses. He was too thin for my taste, and too abstemious (semi-vegetarian, largely teetotal etc.). But he was well-known for his lack of political correctness, which is something I always admire in a man, even if he does come from Hamburg and dresses in the colours of a killer whale.
     So what should one make of his statement a few days ago, in the Paris offices of the newspaper, Metro, that if he were a Russian woman, he’d be lesbian? “The men are very ugly,” he said. “There are a few handsome ones, like Naomi Campbell's boyfriend, but in Russia you see the most beautiful women and the most horrible men.”
     At first sight, this is a simple insult, but I would urge caution on all Russian men who feel inclined to react by drinking that Chanel scent they bought for their подруга and boycotting all Lagerfeld products for the rest of time. Maybe he has a point. I doubt that Russian men are significantly uglier than Scottish men, to take one example, or Hamburgers. But it is a fact that there are aspects of Russian etiquette which seem ugly to people who did not grow up in the Soviet Union, or who were not brought up by people who did. It is not what you say, but the way you say it. That is the point of language etiquette.
     The ugliest habit of all is to judge people by their outward appearance, as Herr Lagerfeld appears to like doing. That is as ignorant as assessing the thoughts of Russians by the way they speak English, or the other way round.
     So here is today’s competition question:
Who is more beautiful, Karl Lagerfeld or Naomi Campbell—and why?
The winning answer, which will be put into the draw for that bottle of malt whisky, will be the one that says the nastiest things in the nicest way. That is language etiquette at its cutting edge.